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‘MI Vacc to Normal’ plan announced

In this April 12 photo, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks in Ypsilanti. Whitmer on Thursday announced a plan to tie the lifting of coronavirus restrictions to Michigan’s vaccination rate, setting four specific benchmarks that must be reached to return to normal. As more people get shots, she said, the state will allow in-person work for all business sectors, relax indoor capacity limits and ultimately lift them. (AP photo)

MARQUETTE — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday unveiled the “MI Vacc to Normal Challenge” as the state pushes toward its goal of vaccinating 70% of Michiganders 16 years old and older for COVID-19.

To facilitate this goal, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will base future epidemic order actions on four vaccination-based checkpoints that, once achieved, are expected to enable Michigan to take a step toward normalcy.

“The vaccine remains the most effective way to protect you and your family from COVID and help us all return to normal sooner,” Whitmer said in a Thursday news conference.

The “MI Vacc to Normal” plan will use four vaccination-based milestones — using data for Michiganders 16 years or older who’ve received their first dose — to guide future steps required to get back to normal:

≤ 55% of Michiganders, or about 4.45 million residents, plus two weeks so they can be considered fully vaccinated, which allows in-person work for all sectors of business.

≤ 60% of Michiganders, or about 4.86 million residents, plus two weeks, which increases indoor capacity at sports stadiums to 25%. It also increases indoor capacity at conference centers, banquet halls and funeral homes to 25% and increases capacity at exercise facilities and gyms to 50%. Additionally, it lifts the curfew on restaurants and bars.

≤ 65% of Michiganders, or about 5.26 million residents, plus two weeks. This lifts all indoor percentage capacity limits and requires social distancing only between parties. Also, it further relaxes limits on residential social gatherings.

≤ 70% of Michiganders, or about 5.67 million residents, plus two weeks. This lifts the Gatherings and Face Masks Order such that MDHHS will no longer employ broad mitigation measures unless unanticipated circumstances arise, such as the spread of vaccine-resistant variants.

Whitmer said that to date, Michigan has administered 6.7 million doses, and likely will hit 7 million this weekend.

“Nearly one in two Michiganders have received their first shots, and over one in three are fully vaccinated, including two out of three seniors,” Whitmer said.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, MDHHS chief medical executive, said that although COVID-19 cases remain high in the state, key metrics are trending in the right direction.

“As of this week, Michigan has 493 cases per million people,” Khaldun said. “That’s 30% lower than it was two weeks ago, but still four times where we were at the middle of February.”

Data also indicates broad community spread, which includes the variants that have been identified across Michigan, Khaldun said. Additionally, the positivity rate is 13.2%, nearly three times from the middle of February but down 4.3% from two weeks ago.

Khaldun said there are over 1,272 outbreaks across the state, a number that is holding steady. A total of 19% of hospital beds are being used by COVID-19 patients, and the total number of people being hospitalized is trending down.

“This is better, but this is still not where we want to be,” said Khaldun, who recommended getting vaccinated, getting tested if exposed to COVID-19 or are having symptoms, wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

Acknowledging that people want to celebrate end-of-year events such as graduations and proms, Khaldun suggested people visit the K-12 guidance page at www.michigan.gov/coronavirus for more information on staying safe.

Whitmer indicated that as early as today, state officials envision issuing a revised epidemic order that encourages Michiganders to gather safely outside by relaxing rules for outdoor gatherings. They also will incorporate new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on wearing face masks outdoors.

The CDC guidelines say fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to wear masks outside, except in crowded settings.

“While I can’t predict with certainty when we’ll hit 70%, if we all do our part, I know we can get there together,” Whitmer said. “Once we hit 70%, we will keep working to ensure everyone who’s eligible gets vaccinated as soon as possible, because (the) more people we vaccinate, the safer we will be for the long haul.”

Also on Thursday, Whitmer received a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine administered by Khaldun. The governor joined six Grand Rapids teens serving as Protect Michigan Commission COVID-19 ambassadors in receiving their vaccines.

“I feel relieved to have gotten my second dose today and join millions of fully vaccinated Michiganders in the fight against COVID-19,” Whitmer said in a statement. “Although I have my second dose, I will continue to socially distance, wash my hands often and wear a mask when necessary.

“I urge all Michiganders to get vaccinated as soon as possible to protect you and your loved ones from COVID-19. Every day we’re getting closer and closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. Let’s beat COVID-19 together.”

The Michigan League for Public Policy, based in Lansing, on Thursday issued the following statement on the MI Vacc to Normal plan. The statement was made by league President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs.

“Throughout the pandemic, Gov. Whitmer has strived to balance safety and science with residents’ and businesses’ economic security, and today’s plan effectively addresses all of those concerns together,” Jacobs said. “The league has been proud to be a part of the Protect Michigan Commission and our state continues to make good progress in vaccinations, but we need to keep those efforts up and build on that success.

“We all want things to get back to normal, but we all have to do our part to make that happen by getting vaccinated and continuing to follow appropriate safety guidelines. Getting our kids back to school and people back to work will have a tremendous ripple effect for all of our individual households and families as well as our communities, our state budget and our economy as a whole. The ‘MI Vacc to Normal’ plan outlines clear steps tied to specific benchmarks, and in doing so, it gives us all hope and a goal to strive for together.”

Dr. Bobby Mukkamala, president of the Michigan State Medical Society, also issued a statement on Thursday.

“Governor Whitmer’s ‘Vacc to Normal’ plan lays out the path to returning our economy and much of our daily lives back to pre-pandemic norms, which is what we all want,” Mukkamala said. “The COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and readily available to everyone 16 years and older in Michigan. For the health of families, friends, neighbors and our economy, please get vaccinated.”

The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance responded as well to the “MI Vacc to Normal” plan. The alliance represents 16 chambers and economic development organizations and over 7,000 member businesses from across northern Michigan, including the Marquette-based Lake Superior Community Partnership.

“We are cautiously optimistic that we now have metrics and a path to a full reopening,” said Stacie Bytwork, alliance chairperson and president and CEO of the Manistee Area Chamber of Commerce. “Our businesses are already serving as trusted leaders within our communities in encouraging employees and residents to be safe and will continue to do so.

“It needs to be recognized that vaccination rates are not within the control of businesses alone — this is really a community-wide and statewide problem to solve. We encourage everyone who is ready to get vaccinated to find a walk-in clinic or talk to their health provider so we can continue our economic recovery.”

Museum to open earlier

The board of directors of Ishpeming’s Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum announced that the museum will open earlier than normal for this year’s tour season on May 28.

“After our disappointment at the need to keep our museum doors closed for the 2020 season due to COVID-19, we are happy to announce an early season kickoff with full tours to take place on Memorial Day weekend, May 28-31,” said Robert Clark, museum president, in the announcement.

The regular season will follow from June 1 to Sept. 24 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Hour-long guided tours will run at 10:30 a.m., 11:45 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:15 p.m.

The working forge will be fired up with David Arbelius, resident blacksmith, at the helm with his handmade wares for sale. This year, new products, including local food items, will be available in the gift shop along with many other items.

For more information, call the museum at 906-475-1882.

Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum said it will comply with all applicable COVID-19 restrictions and recommendations.

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